Fifty years ago today, civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee. Commemorations are taking place across the countryto honor his vision and achievements, from panel discussions to walking tours to the symbolic ringing of church bells. The anniversary of Dr. King’s tragic death can serve to remind us of how real the challenges to racial equity movements can be.
Dawn Glasco, a Community Engagement Coordinator who works with children, has lived on East 76th street, Cleveland, for the past 10 years. And right outside her window, across the street from her home, all those years, had sat a large vacant lot — run down, overgrown with tall grass that the city wasn’t mowing, and littered with trash. A couple of years ago, Glasco started to feel ready to do something about it, summoned her courage, and began going door to door, asking neighbors if they’d join a group effort to beautify the street and turn the lot into an outdoor classroom. She also called the city, asked them to come and mow, and got permission to improve the lot. Glasco’s neighbors were receptive, and so was the city. For her, a door had opened.
While the average budget for ioby projects is around $4,000, many are larger scale. If you have your sights set high, your budget—and fundraising skills—will have to rise to the challenge.
Crowdfunding large amounts of money on ioby is totally doable, but it takes some extra planning. In our Rainmakers series, we’re sharing stories and tips from Leaders who have successfully raised $10,000 or more for their ioby campaign. Learn how they did it, and how you can do it, too!
The Cleveland Refugee Bike Project is working to improve mobility—both physical and social—for the city’s refugee community by providing them with bicycles to ride and the training and tools necessary to become safe and self-sufficient riders.
ioby Leader Tim Kovach let us in on how he raised over $13,000 last fall to launch this ambitious project this spring.
Q: Who was on your fundraising team?
I saw my job as bridging the gap between the bike and refugee services communities, so I chose my partners very deliberately. I bike a lot and do volunteer advocacy work with the Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op and Bike Cleveland, so I had personal relationships with them and approached them that way. My wife happens to work at Catholic Charities: they run the largest refugee resettlement program in Northern Ohio, and are a member of the The Refugee Services Collaborative of Greater Cleveland. So my connections in both worlds gave me access to both donor pools.
Cleveland has been trying to make itself as welcoming a community as possible for refugees and immigrants, so we had a lot of good connections and reception from that side. On the bike side, Cleveland has been going through some growing pains to become a bike-friendlier city—it’s happening in fits and starts—there’s lots of grassroots momentum there.
Through one tragic event, I saw there was a lot of fundraising potential in our bike community. A local bike luminary, Shelli Snyder, was critically injured while biking from Ohio to Seattle last year, and her peers raised tens of thousands of dollars for her recovery. That showed us there was a lot of support here for bike-related concerns.
I approached the directors of both bike organizations in January 2016 to pitch it to them, but the idea didn’t go anywhere until late summer or early fall, when we knew more about how it would be funded: through crowdfunding on ioby and through the Cleveland Climate Action Fund, which gave us $5,000.
Q: Were you already comfortable with asking for money?
No, I’m not really the fundraising type. I’m a very quiet, reserved person, so this was not comfortable to me, and it was all fairly new. I did solicit family and friends through social media, phone calls, and face to face. My sister-in-law is a refugee herself, so my brother was very generous. It wasn’t the easiest thing I’ve ever done, but I got a good response—though my asks didn’t comprise the lion’s share of what we made.
Fortunately, I was able to partner with people who had more skills in this area. The Ohio City Bicycle Co-Op and Bike Cleveland are both very small—less than 10 people each. But the directors of both organizations put asks in their newsletters and made personal requests of their contacts. Catholic Charities is obviously bigger, and they put the word out on their social media. It’s definitely easier to work with a small local organization than a national one. The potential for donations is larger with the latter, but there are more layers of bureaucracy to communicate through.
I found that personal relationships were important to this campaign across the board. Cleveland is a small city; you run into the same people over and over. That can be a problem when it comes donor fatigue, but unexpectedly catching someone can also be a great way to have that conversation you wanted to have. This familiarity definitely came into play when it came to hosting a fundraiser. My wife and I live near a brew pub called Platform that we knew had hosted such events in the past. I approached the manager in person, he agreed to have us, and we raised a few hundred dollars in a few hours via cash donations and a percentage of beer sales.
Q: How did you plan your fundraising?
We developed the budget and program plan systematically. I costed out a few things, then asked my partners for feedback. The bike co-op is hosting a lot of the project’s trainings, so they knew how much that part would cost; the same went for Catholic Charities, who provided the translators. With these numbers, I initially drew up a budget for 50-plus participants as a pilot. That wound up growing to 100 participants as we raised more money.
The fundraising effort was a little more by the seat of our pants. I relied a lot on the organizations to contact their donor lists, I made my own list of who I should ask, and I cobbled together targeted social media efforts as I went along. On social, I made an effort to go for people I knew had a lot of connections. For instance, I noticed that a reporter for a local blog was putting together a list of local organizations who were accepting different kinds of donations. I asked her if she’d include us, and she did. There was a lot of happenstance like that.
Q: How did storytelling factor in?
It was challenging on one hand because there are privacy concerns with sharing info about refugees, for their safety. You don’t want to get into too much detail, so just we said there’s a need and there’s an interest: that it’s been difficult for refugees to get bikes, and there have been incidents where people have been injured.
But I did try to share my own story of how we got to where we were, why this issue was important, and more about this mobility gap we wanted to bridge. Interestingly, the campaign deadline was November 18 of last year, and we found that we kind of plateaued about two weeks before the presidential election on November 8. After the election, it was evident that people really wanted to do something, and we were there with some issues that were really at the heart of the election: immigration, refugees, climate change, transportation equity, human dignity… So that timing wound up really working to our advantage. Donations surged and got us to our original goal, then to our stretch goal.
Another aspect of storytelling that really helped was earned media recognition. There’s a local blog that does feel-good stories, and they wrote about us. While I thought they focused too much on me—that’s not my cup of tea!—it did help spread the word. We also appeared on the WCPN radio program The Sound of Ideas around the time we hit our goal. They wanted to do a show about refugee issues a week or so after the election, and reached out to us.
Q: What methods did you use to ask people?
I was pleasantly surprised by how effective creating a Twitter account for the project was: for raising money as well as for thanking and appreciating donors. But the larger donations we got—above $100—all came from direct asks to people, made either by me or our partner organizations. In those cases, personal emails were probably the most effective method.
Q: Did fundraising help with community buy-in?
Sure. In addition to donating, or in lieu of it, some people said they would like to volunteer, donate bike paraphernalia, or help us get the word out. Those were beneficial outcomes for sure.
As you would expect, given the political climate and the nature of the program, there were a few less than kind comments made and messages shared. But then we saw a lot of vocal supporters step up to “drown out the haters,” so to speak.
Q: Any other advice on how to crowdfund for larger projects?
It’s important to set a realistic fundraising target and justify how you got to that number; people will want to know. ioby training taught me to break it down this way: If you give us $75, that will buy a bike; $25 will buy an hour of interpretation; etc. Giving concrete examples of where the money’s going encourages donors to feel ownership.
Don’t be afraid to ask your family and friends; they’re the ones most likely to support you if they can.
Partner with good organizations that have experience in your topic area and good donor lists. Harness their skills and connect with their constituencies.
While ioby cautions not to rely too heavily on social media, I found it to work pretty well, though I understand that might not be the case for everyone.
Have a story to tell. People want to hear it. I had to figure out how to do that without divulging too much private information, but in any case, work to tell an engaging story of some kind. People will feel like they have a stake in what you’re doing if they know where you’re coming from and are sharing something personal with them.
Since ioby launched in New York City in 2009, we have been a hyperlocal organization, on a mission to support neighborhood leaders and residents making positive change happen where they live. In 2012 we went national, with the idea that we could extend our services to people all over the country who have great ideas. And that’s the model that we use now – anyone from anywhere in the US can use our platform and services. However, we’ve found that we can make the most positive impact when we work closely with people and organizations who have deep local roots. In order to stay hyperlocal, we need to grow hyperlocally.
In 2014 we began working in Memphis, first partnering with the Mayor’s Office and local organizations, then hiring a Memphis-based community organizer with a long history of neighborhood leadership who could connect with change-making Memphians on a face-to-face, day-to-day basis. It was so effective to have someone on the ground that we realized this type of expansion was ioby’s future.
Now, we’re thrilled to be partnering with more local leaders around the country to bring ioby’s resources to four new cities in 2016: Detroit, Cleveland, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh. This week, we’ll tell you how we arrived at these four, and why we’re super excited to be setting up shop in each.
With generous funding from the Saint Luke’s Foundation, we’ll be opening our doors in Cleveland’s Buckeye neighborhood on March 14!
We were inspired to begin work in Cleveland by ioby board member Evelyn Burnett, Vice President of Economic Opportunity for Cleveland’s Neighborhood Progress. Evelyn’s organization does incredibly valuable work and she and her team have been instrumental in introducing us to the city and its neighborhoods.
So, how do we choose the cities we focus on, and why Cleveland? We want to work in cities that show a need for the kinds of resources we provide, but more importantly, we look for cities that have an existing “ecosystem” of citizen-led action focusing on positive change. To put it mildly, there is a lot of this happening in Cleveland. We’re incredibly impressed by the work of groups like Ohio Homecoming and organizers like Alonzo Mitchell who are working on building positive movements and promoting investment — capital, social, and civic — in Ohio communities. In short, Cleveland is changing for the better and we think ioby’s tools and resources can be valuable in the hands of people who care about this amazing city.
For the short term, we’re going to focus on the Buckeye neighborhood, a community that has faced many challenges, but has shown incredible energy and promise. One of our favorite initiatives, Sidewalks of Buckeye, shows us that the neighborhood is home to an active arts scene, a committed—though loosely-connected—group of grassroots leaders, and many residents who are interested in pedestrian improvements along the main thoroughfare.
We have equal enthusiasm for our excellent partners Neighborhood Connections (a small-grants program of the Cleveland Foundation), and City Repair (a program of Neighborhood Connections). ioby has hosted several grassroots crowdfunding trainings for Neighborhood Connections leaders and has supported a cohort of projects led by their grantees—all with great results.
To prepare for our rollout in Cleveland, ioby’s City Partnerships Director David Weinberger is beginning to have conversations with over 20 community leaders and will lead two workshops there in January. “We need to do this kind of hands-on research to prepare for ramping up work in a new city,” he explains. “We talk to people about what projects they’re working on, how neighbors are connecting to those projects, and see where we can be most helpful in filling in the gaps.”
Cleveland, we can’t wait to work together to bring positive change to your neighborhoods!
What you can do
-If you’re a Clevelander with a great idea for your neighborhood or your city, you don’t have to wait! Tell us your idea today and we’ll help get you started fundraising.
– With vital support from the Saint Luke’s Foundation, we’re hiring a Cleveland Action Strategist to help launch our HQ there—starting in March—and work to recruit and serve community leaders. You can help us by spreading the word to any great Clevelanders you know!
– We want to hit the ground running come March, so we’ll be hosting a series of webinars meant to inspire new ioby leaders in Cleveland to start projects, starting now! Click here for more info, days and times, and to RSVP.
Those of us in the northeast are currently bracing for Winter Storm Juno, which is slated to pummel us tonight and into tomorrow. But even if you’re not facing a blinding blizzard, late January is still a perfect time to hunker down with a cup of hot cocoa and catch up on your reading.
To this end, we’re very pleased to drop our latest resource guide to getting good done tonight. The ioby Getting Good Done Guides illustrates five projects any community can accomplish together in five steps.
This one is all about the unique opportunities winter affords for cool communal involvement; it’s called In The Cold. Where else can you learn how to build an all-season outdoor pavilion, throw a successful winter event in your community garden, and harness snow to help your city make improvements to pedestrian infrastructure?
That’s right: nowhere.
We recommend letting it download while you mix up your cocoa, then enjoying both from the comfort of a warm set of flannel pj’s.
We’re always grateful to the esteemed contributors who make our guides possible, and to our readers, who send us actionable feedback and heartening stories about their experiences. Please keep your messages coming!
Please stay safe during the storm, too. There will be a great need for snow-person building later this week!